The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 Review – To the Future

I‘ve had the pleasure of playing through almost all of the Trails games in The Legend of Heroes series over the past year. Seeing Rean Schwarzer emerge from a train in Trista, venturing into the great unknown to stop a civil war, or becoming an instructor to foster a new Class VII – despite how fresh all of these memories still are, it’s incredible how far the Cold Steel saga has come. And thus we arrive at The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4, the end of the Erebonia arc, the climactic finale to a journey that began in 2013 on the PS3 and Vita.

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“It definitely takes some time for the story to get rolling as the trio is eventually reunited with Ash and Musse, learns more about their current predicament and picks up traces of Rean’s location.”

After the cliffhanger ending of Cold Steel 3, Cold Steel 4 picks up two weeks after. Erebonia is readying for war and Class VII is left to pick up the pieces with Juna, Kurt and Altina forging a path forward. Though old Class VII members will accompany them from time to time, the first Act is more about getting the new Class VII up to speed on how Erebonia has changed. Wandering around and engaging with various civilians, whether it’s a family trying to spend their last few days together or the nobility preparing for the worst, can be compelling in its own right.

Even while retreading a lot of areas from Cold Steel 3, it’s still incredible to see different NPCs going through their own trials. The history of Erebonia is dense and seeing the core story advanced while threads from previous titles and even other arcs are weaved in makes for an enjoyable narrative.

However, it definitely takes some time for the story to get rolling as the trio is eventually reunited with Ash and Musse, learns more about their current predicament and picks up traces of Rean’s location. Despite how even-paced the first 10 hours or so can be, it still serves a purpose. Class VII is literally picking itself back up and battling despair, along with personal tragedies, for the sake of moving forward.

You’ll still encounter some old allies, including other students from Thor’s Branch Campus, while engaging in some fun battles. But everything that happens after that is even more compelling, delivering some incredible character moments, boss fights and revelations. I’m loath to give specific examples because, well, spoilers but there’s just so much to see here.

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“Another great change allows everyone to equip any Mastery Quartz as their secondary, which means more freedom in assigning specific bonuses.”

The structure will be familiar to those who have played previous Trails of Cold Steel titles as you’ll fulfill requests on the side, engage in Bonding Events and progress through the main story. You’ll still partake in mini-games like fishing and Vantage Masters while also jumping into new ones like Pom Pom Party!, the series’ take on tile-matching puzzlers. Taking landscape photos, reporting battle progress and discovering various books on the world’s stories also return as do mech battles.

The battle system is also fairly established with its Crafts and Arts, with some slight changes over the previous game. Depleting an enemy’s break meter is tougher, requiring even more buffs and building towards break damage. Orders have also been revamped, being slightly weaker from the outset but upgradeable down the line.

To compensate for this, you can now store up to seven Bravery Points, allowing for Orders to be doled out more often. This, combined with the Break meter change, makes you consider whether it’s better to Rush or Burst a foe and break them, or save that BP for a longer battle. It does encourage more careful deployment of Orders and usage of Arts than Cold Steel 3, which is a nice change of pace.

Another great change allows everyone to equip any Mastery Quartz as their secondary, which means more freedom in assigning specific bonuses. Want to have two party members benefiting from Minotauros, delivering more damage with Crafts at the expense of longer delays? How about specifically gearing your entire party towards break damage? You can do all of that and more.

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“Though I would have liked some more exposure for certain party members in the main story, it’s to the credit of Falcom’s writing team that everyone is integrated near-seamlessly as one’s journey continues. “

I’d have loved some more new additions, especially in the Quartz department, though Lost Arts make a much-needed return and new Class VII’s Panzer Soldats can be summoned in battles, making for some interesting new strategies. You also receive upgrades for existing Crafts, along with a very interesting mechanic that further mixes up battles in the middle-game. The large party roster negates the need for lots of new Crafts while new Class VII receives some new S-Crafts so there is still plenty of variety to be had.

Overall, Cold Steel 4‘s battle system is top-notch and there’s a good mix of enemies, ranging from established fiends and monsters to new threats, to keep you occupied. The story bosses are very entertaining throughout, each bringing something interesting to the table while offering their own challenges (save for one or two which can be slightly easier than they appear). The optional bosses are where you’ll really cut your teeth, utilizing Orders, buffs, different combinations of party members and so on to succeed.

At the end of the day, the game would be nothing without its characters and thankfully, there’s an ample amount of time devoted to making them shine. The Bonding Events provide a wealth of great scenarios for each character, providing some manner of closure to past events, examining their current state of mind or setting up a future relationship.

It speaks to the quality of writing in the Events experienced thus far that only one really stuck out as being overtly contrived. Though I would have liked some more exposure for certain party members in the main story, it’s to the credit of Falcom’s writing team that everyone is integrated near-seamlessly as one’s journey continues. This pertains both to the various plot points as well banter on the field and during select scenes.

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“Written dialogue still falls prey to some redundant lines here and there, especially when it comes to reminding the player of objectives, and some scenes could use a bit of trimming.”

You also have Quests which provide all kinds of interesting tasks. Some may seem like your run-of-the-mill errands like collecting items and exterminating monsters. But they all provide plenty of development for the game’s endearing cast of NPCs, either bringing you up to speed on their current affairs or setting up future events. Even the monster exterminations provide their own interesting challenges (with a pushover or two here and there).

Of course, there is plenty to nitpick. Managing such a large roster can be daunting, especially in the early going but this shifts to being more manageable later thanks to a larger influx of resources. Environmental design, cutscene presentation and animation are handled well throughout, though it’s not a huge leap in quality over the previous game (which is likely due to Falcom’s PhyreEngine reaching its limits).

Performance also suffers at times, especially in more detailed battle fields with several enemies and effects going off at once. The depth-of-field utilized in some instances can also be annoying but fortunately, it wasn’t too heavy-handed. Also, while there are plenty of new areas added, a good chunk of the game still revolves around revisiting locations from Cold Steel 3. It isn’t a negative per say, given the overall changes to the world’s inhabitants, but it’s still worth noting.

In terms of English localization, I was quite satisfied with the overall work done. Written dialogue still falls prey to some redundant lines here and there, especially when it comes to reminding the player of objectives, and some scenes could use a bit of trimming. There are also a few awkward lines here and there with some performances lacking that extra bit of oomph compared to previous games. A lot of the post-battle interactions that occur from between two characters are also kind of weak. That being said, there are still plenty of lines and scenes that range from very good to excellent, and are on point when it matters the most.

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“For fans of the series, there are definitely some bumps to manage here and there, especially when starting out. However, Trails of Cold Steel 4 is an excellent sequel overall and a fitting way to end the Erebonia saga.”

Given the overall size and scale of the project, the sheer number of talent on-board and the range of interactions, I still feel that the localization is pretty good as a whole. Similarly for the music, which features several great new tracks along with a rocking main theme and the return of iconic songs from the previous games. While some tracks are an acquired taste (like the more techno-oriented Synchronicity #23), there’s a lot of good stuff here that adds to the overall atmosphere, especially the battle themes.

Despite its various issues, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 is a very good RPG with memorable characters, fun battles, a compelling story and tons of great side content to engage with. Those who know nothing about the series are encouraged to start with the first game to get the maximum amount of enjoyment out of the story. There is an excellent in-game encyclopedia that brings you up to speed on events thus far but experiencing them first-hand is well worth it. For fans of the series, there are definitely some bumps to manage here and there, especially when starting out. However, Trails of Cold Steel 4 is an excellent sequel overall and a fitting way to end the Erebonia saga.

This game was reviewed on PS4.

THE GOOD

Excellent characterization and a compelling plot with significant stakes. Well-written events and quests to go with a fleshed-out world. Combat system remains fun with changes and the expanded roster adding even more nuance. English localization and voice acting are very good and deliver where it matters most. Soundtrack as a whole shines.

THE BAD

Performance issues in some of the busier scenes and battles. Story can take some time to get going for the first several hours and relies on a number of well-worn tropes. Some awkwardly delivered lines here and there along with redundant dialogue can hamper the experience.

Final Verdict

It’s taken a long time to get here but The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 4 is a well-rounded experience, brimming with memorable characters, storylines and world-building. Despite a few stumbles in pacing and localization, not to mention performance issues, it’s an incredible role-playing experience.

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